The lights lift, the silence hangs and a young boy lies down with a bag tightly wrapped around his neck. It’s not his first attempt. He tells you that. The soundscape of his breath merges with the crunched reshaping of the plastic bags expansion and contraction. Is it sadness that stills his breathing? Is it anger at a world he can’t control? Despair and hopelessness ride in waves towards the audience but Wind ( played by Cliff Cardinal, Award winning Canadian indigenous performer and playwright.) has a story to tell… and you’d better be ready to hear it.
Huff , Cardinals critically-acclaimed one man show, rips through the perceived mundanity of the everyday and presents a painful, no-holes-barred look at what it means to grow up on the First Nation Reservation in Ontario, Canada. Writer/performer Cardinal highlights the lack of cultural enrichment, spiritual deprivation and abuse.
It’s not an easy bite to consume. If you’re easily offended, perhaps this isn’t your show. It’s a harsh world that Wind lives in. With an alcoholic father, a dead mother, and a grandmother who means well but physically has her best years behind her, there is not much Wind and his younger brother can do to pass the time but play in the abandoned local hotel, sniff solvents, huff petrol and choke each other to the point of blackout. ‘Ready, Set, Blast off!’
This one man monologue is not for the faint-hearted. It explores a taboo subculture and exposes many social issues of substance abuse, sexual abuse and suicide as well as spiritual and cultural deprivation. The everyday issues and side effects of a static society whose traditions and culture are repeatedly marginalised. Director Karin Randoja, ensures that Cardinals story paces well without being too didactic.
The physical demands of this performance shouldn’t be underestimated. Cardinal plays over 20 characters in the 70 minute production which is a feat in itself. From the wily trickster, to a philandering father to a cheeky, odiferous skunk, he keeps us engaged and on edge. Michelle Ramsay is on point with lighting and redirects us well as each character comes to life without resorting to the usual cliches. Her lighting scape enrols rather than alienates as the characters repeatedly appear on stage.
The show has a few loose theatrical threads. There are dramaturgical issues in the development of the text. Alex Williams sound design also seems at times, ill-fitting and clunky- but maybe that’s the point.
Regardless, Huff is an exploratory work that should be seen. The very power of art lies in it’s ability to unapologetically and bravely reflect truth. Hopefully Native Earth Performing Arts and Cardinals working relationship will continue to produce work that makes us think, long after the curtain has closed.
Lee Anderson – Theatre now & Talking Arts